Aluminum Branch Wiring - Upgrading

upgrade aluminum branch wiring



REWIRE Replace all aluminum solid wire with copper wire. The best and most permanent solution. Expensive, but strongly recommended. Highest
PIGTAIL Eliminates the aluminum wire connection to switches and outlets by splicing in a short length of copper wire. Moves the aluminum connection from the receptacle (or switch) terminals to a more reliable splice.
REPLACE If the outlets and switches are aging, or not marked with the letters CO/ALR, have them replaced. Greatly reduces the most frequent failures. Less permanent than rewiring your entire house. Low
LEAVE IT ALONE If a load test is satisfactory, and no signs of trouble exist, repairs can be postponed. Periodic load testing (by a licensed Electrician) is recommended. Consider this choice as buying (or borrowing) time. Not recommended. Lowest



The definitive answer to aluminum wiring worries is to get rid of it altogether. New copper branch wiring can be installed and all that old aluminum wiring will be left abandoned inside the wall cavities. The cost and disruption of doing the job depends greatly upon the construction of the house. A wide open unfinished crawl space or basement and a wide open unfinished attic will make the re-wire job much easier. The cost may not necessarily be higher than the other "partial" solutions mentioned below. If remodeling is contemplated or in your near future plans (either complete or in part) by all means replace any aluminum wiring in that particular area. Consider upgrading or replacing the service entrance cable at the same time, since it is probably thirty to forty years old and a bit small by today's standards.



It is possible to avoid the problem of having any aluminum wiring connecting to your outlets and switches altogether. You can do this by having a licensed Electrician crimp a short length of copper wire to the aluminum wire with a connection called a "PIGTAIL". A PIGTAIL crimp alleviates the aluminum connection at your switches and outlets because all the aluminum connections will be permanently pigtailed with copper wiring. The CPSC does not recognize any other system or correction as acceptable. This creates legal concerns for anyone who may recommend a different solution.

These "Pigtail" crimps can not be installed by the average homeowner. TYCO Electronics does not sell the AMP crimping tool; they have patents pending and only allow users to lease the equipment. This limits access for residential or small work, because it is difficult to justify leasing costs for one house. The number of “qualified” electricians that have gone through the AMP training creates further limitations. There are very few electricians in the country who have gone through the training, and most are commercial Electricians. Based on this situation, me (as your home inspector) cannot recommend this as a solution, because most of our clients will not be able to find a qualified electrician in their area. My posture is to explain the aluminum wire situation so that my clients understand the concerns, and recommend a licensed Electrician to determine the best action.



In prehistoric times, copper wiring was assumed, and outlets and switches were not marked to indicate compatibility with wire composition. When aluminum wire was first used, it was installed in the same manner as copper wire, and trouble appeared with deteriorating connections. New alloys were used in wiring devices, and these devices were marked CU-AL or AL-CU. It was later found that small sizes of aluminum wire were still causing problems, and better equipment for small branch circuits was invented and labeled CO/ALR. Today, CO/ALR is the only acceptable marking for outlets and switches in small branch circuits.

Many homes still have the original wiring devices, and these stand a good chance of being the CU-AL type or the unmarked type. They are also getting pretty old, so that receptacles may be having trouble gripping plugs, and switches may be failing. Replacing these wiring devices is the minimum upgrade to make aluminum wiring safe. Bending and handling of the wire should be kept to a minimum. The wire at each connection should be cleaned of oxidation, and anti-corrosion paste should be applied. This is not a do-it-yourself project when aluminum wire is involved.



If you are trying to avoid the repairs for a while, have an Electrician load test the wiring, then repeat the process once a year. Keep records. If the voltage drop on a circuit (or all circuits) begins to increase, there is an impending failure. If you learn how to do this yourself (some aptitude and a little equipment required), you can do it as often as you like. Aluminum wiring in good condition is better off left undisturbed. Load testing and inspection of the devices for the CO/ALR marking can be done without perturbing the wiring. Consider this option a postponement of the inevitable.



Regardless of the method chosen for dealing with outlets and switches, the aluminum connections in the circuit breaker panel and at all junction boxes and receptacles should be inspected by a licensed Electrician. At the circuit breaker panel, verify that each aluminum wire is coated with corrosion inhibitor. Have your Electrician apply the specified torque to each screw terminal to make sure it has not loosened over time. When re-making a connection remember to abrade the wire to remove the aluminum oxide layer and immediately apply additional corrosion inhibitor before re-connecting any aluminum wire.

Locate all the junction boxes (outlets and switches), and inspect the connections. All the connections should be re-done with one of the approved splicing methods described above, although some judgment is in order with regard to excessive handling of the wire. Be sure read the manufacturer's instructions for the proper splicing method to be used.



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Last updated on  Dec 29, 2012